The Day of Remembrance is dedicated to remembering Feb. 19, 1942, the day President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, declaring all persons of Japanese ancestry be placed in incarceration camps across the United States. Civil rights were violated, families were divided, and social injustices scarred our community.
We use this day not to mourn over the wrongs that occurred, but to partake in acts of healing and empowerment. We use the Day of Remembrance to claim freedoms that are rightfully ours, to connect with others who have suffered similarly, to stand up against future acts of injustice, and to teach and encourage younger generations to continue in the struggle for equality and respect.
The 31st New York Day of Remembrance was held this past weekend at the Japanese American United Church in midtown Manhattan. This was my first DOR since moving to New York. It was also perhaps one of the first times in a long while where I really expressed a deep pain and sadness for my grandparents, aunts and uncles who had been forced to live in camp.
Near the end of the service, the church lights went off and we were given time to call out the names of those we knew in camp. Names were called under candlelight, and as more people began to speak up, I found my eyes had filled with tears. I never cried before about camp, but after shouting my grandparents’ names, it hit me hard.
I’ve attended Manzanar Pilgrimages year after year, listened to Niseis speak about their camp experiences, watched films, read books, even majored in Asian American studies. I was always angry about what I knew, but until this past weekend, I never felt a sadness like this about my own community. I never felt more close or connected.
I am 31 years old. I don’t know what it was like to have lived in camp, but somewhere deep in me, I have been greatly affected. My family might never talk much about how outrageous it was to have to be forced to live in barracks in the desert, but for me, no family of mine, no person I know, regardless of being Japanese American, should be corralled into isolation and denied their freedoms.
Most days, it’s almost unbelievable that my family spent four years in Tule Lake. It’s unbelievable that my mother was conceived there. Camp, in itself, was horrible, but whenever I see the footage of racism and fear that pushed our families onto those trains and into the middle of nowhere, my heart sinks and an aching discomfort grows inside of me. I know I cannot change the past, but I know we must do our best to continue to be vigilant and hope that this never happens again to any community.
This day was very special for me, not only because of its intimacy, but because I really started to feel connected to the Japanese American community here in New York. It was the first time in a long while where I got to see obasans running around, helping out in the kitchen, talking to me like somehow we were related. It was the first time in a long while where I was able to see different generations together in one room, breaking bread, folding paper cranes and figuring out who’s related to whom.
Being at DOR made me miss my Los Angeles community, but it also made me hopeful of the new family I’m finding here. For many Japanese Americans, our historical struggles have brought us together in solidarity. Those same struggles have strengthened our community, a community that in many ways is familial and compassionate. I am lucky to be part of this community, and it is my hope that we continue to support others who are struggling and to share our stories with generations to come.
Mari Nakano can be reached by email at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.